An Indian Agent’s Report

Mr. J. Harlan, who was United States Indian agent for the Cherokee during the Civil war gives the following account of his stewardship on August 1, 1865 “I was appointed United States Indian agent for the Cherokee on September 19, 186-2, and since that time I have been almost constantly with them. Living most of the time at Fort Gibson, guarded by three regiments of Indians, and in the Indian country where the loyal refugee Indians came for protection, I had many opportunities of seeing and hearing what their wants were. There were about twenty-two thousand Cherokee at the beginning of this rebellion, of whom 8,500 joined the Rebellion and went south, 13,500 remaining in the nation. Many of the men who joined the Rebellion left their families in the nation. Early in 1861 rebel emissaries came into the Indian country for the purpose of making the Indians dissatisfied with us, and to induce them to join the South and take up arms in the war then raging.

“The Cherokee generally, under the influence of their chief, John Ross, assumed a kind of `Kentucky neutrality.’ Later in that year that neutrality was thrown off and two regiments were raised among the Cherokee and became a part of the rebel army. Many Cherokee refused to join, and some who did, finding themselves misled, voluntarily returned and joined the Union army. Some moved out of the nation. Some moved to places more secure from molestation from their brethren and from the rebel army then in the nation.

“Many joined with Opothleyohola, a loyal Creek. He was pursued by a much larger force than he had, a battle was fought and Opothleyohola was the victor. The rebel force ‘was largely increased and another battle was fought, in which the brave chief was defeated, with great loss of life. During the night after the battle, snow fell to the depth of one foot or more and the weather became terribly cold. In the battle and the retreat his party lost most of their bedding, clothing, horses and provisions. In such weather and under such conditions the loyal Indians had to find their way into Kansas. Many horses and Indians froze to death. In the Cherokee Nation the rebel Indians were let loose upon the loyal Cherokee, and protected by the rebel army, they murdered, robbed and captured loyal Cherokee, stealing their horses, cattle, household goods and burning their homes. Some fled into the mountains, glad to escape with their lives, and these remained for months, during the winter season, exposed to all the inclemency’s of the season, and many died of exposure. In the spring of 1863 smallpox broke out among them and no amount of argument could persuade many of them to be vaccinated. Most of the Cherokee men who remained in the nation and many who returned from the South enlisted in the Union army as home-guards. In April, 1863, three Indian regiments, with occasional white or Negro regiments, were located at Fort Gibson.

“When a bushwhacking party crossed the Arkansas River into the Cherokee Nation, the Indians were summoned to protect Fort Gibson while their families were left at home to be insulted, outraged, plundered and sometimes murdered or carried away by the enemy. The bushwhackers loaded themselves with plunder and left the nation. The pursuing force, loaded with plunder, returned to Fort Gibson, reported great success in driving the enemy from the country and rested from their labors. Thus the Cherokee have been robbed by their enemies and by their protectors until they are literally’ destitute.

“Nearly all of the Cherokee cultivate some land. Only a very few cultivate extensively. Generally they raise a small field of grain and a vegetable garden. Many of the men are indolent and careless, while the women, though usually slow at their work, are steady and industrious. Their lands are very rich, but the men plow too shallow, and during dry seasons especially, they raise poor crops. Horses, mules, cattle, sheep and hogs are raised with so little trouble and expense that at the beginning of the war almost all the Cherokee had some stock. Some had large herds, a few counting their animals by the thousand. The half-breeds generally attended to their crops and stock, and many of them became wealthy, but the full-bloods usually have not done so well, and too frequently they left the cultivation of the land to the women and children. Their laws allow husband and wife to own separate property and it is not uncommon among the full-bloods for the women to own most of the live stock.

“The Seminole and Uchee are but bands of the Creek, and united, they are the most numerous of these tribes. Their rebels may return to their nation when they choose, as they are as numerous as the loyal element.

“For the future I will say : We have made treaties with the Indian tribes, and in so many other ways acknowledged that they had rights that we ought not to be allowed, now, to say that they have none. This regulating Indians out of one territory into another, enforcing it by arms, is always oppressive, and can only be justified as a necessary war measure in time of actual hostility. All our transactions with the Indian tribes should be by treaty and only by treaty. If they have a country which they want to sell, we may buy it, but if they refuse to sell, it is their right to do so, and there is no remedy.

“In too many of our transactions with the Indians they think we have the advantage. Our interest in the transaction was certain, theirs in prospect only. Our interest was pressed early and late; theirs was attended to when we had nothing else to do.

“We promised them protection as a part of the consideration for their lands in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, but when they wanted protection here, with their men in our army, we suffered their people to be robbed and murdered for more than two years, until their property was destroyed or carried away. This they know, for they felt it and they feel it still. This and other acts makes them distrustful of everything proposed by white men.”

Another Agent’s Statement

The report of Colonel Sells, superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District, dated October 16, 1865, says:

     “I think it is not doing violence to truth to say that since the commencement of the rebellion 300,000 head of cattle have been driven from the Indian country without the consent of the owners and without remuneration.
“It is utterly impossible to break up this system of plunder from the Indians so long as the state, civil and military authorities are in sympathy with the parties engaged in this species of brokerage.
“There are two classes of operators connected with cattle driving from the Indian country. The first are those who take the risk of driving from the original range the home of the owners who are generally men of no character and wholly irresponsible. They usually drive to the southern boundary of Kansas, where the second class are waiting, through their agents, to receive the stolen property. These cattle brokers, claiming to be legitimate dealers, purchase at nominal prices, taking bills of sale, and from thence the cattle are driven to market where enormous profits are made. These brokers have met with such unparalleled success that the mania. for this profitable enterprise has become contagious.”
     The Cherokee and Creek soldiers who had served in the Union army were mustered out of the service on the 31st of May, 1865, but upon returning to their homes they were confronted with many scenes of desolation. Many of their houses had been burned, their fences and crops destroyed and their cattle and horses stolen. During the war a well-organized band of thieves were busily engaged in rushing cattle and horses to the Kansas border where they were met by co-partners in crime who would find a market for the stolen property. It is estimated by agents of the Government that no less than 200,000 cattle and 40,000 horses were stolen from the Creek and Cherokee. After. the country was practically stripped of its live stock, Congress (in January, 1865) passed a law providing a heavy penalty for unlawfully driving live stock from the Indian country.

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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